Before you put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—you need to know what point of view (POV) you will be writing in. POV is the way in which your character sees the world within your book. It’s important to remain consistent with the POV that you choose; however, there are times when an author decides to switch the POV to another character. They may do this to help move the plot along, which is fine as long as the shifts stay consistent in each POV. Make sure to avoid POV Pop-outs!
1st Person Point of View = ‘I’
A popular book written in 1st POV is The Hunger Games The story is seen entirely through Katniss Everdeen’s POV. You see everything through her eyes and are stuck in her head. You know how she feels, what she thinks, and what she perceives.
First POV gets inside the characters head. It’s beneficial to use this POV because it tells the story right through your character’s eyes the way they see it. Think of it kind of like a First Person Shooter game—you only see what the character sees. This is good depending on what kind of story you’re writing and if you plan on staying in that character’s pov the whole story.
The disadvantage to this is that you’re constantly in a bias POV; although this could be good depending on your story. You’re also limited to what the character sees and knows. For example, it’s difficult to describe what facial expressions the character is making because they cant see their own face, unless looking at their reflection, but that is generally considered a cliché and is encouraged to be avoided. Also, it’s limiting because you only sees as much as your character does and only know as much as they do. For example, if the bad guys are off in the distance, plotting, the reader would never know that because our character doesn’t know that…unless they’re actually in the room with the bad guys.
Example (off the top of my head): I looked down with a sigh. This wasn’t supposed to happen. What am I supposed to do now?
2nd Person Point of View = ‘You’
I don’t know many novels that are written in this pov, but it’s sometimes used in poems (and sometimes short stories) to really get into the reader’s head. It’s telling the reader how to feel, what to perceive, and what they see. I think 2nd pov is most commonly used in instruction manuals. Again, if you’re writing a novel, this most likely isn’t the POV you want to use.
Example: You looked down with a sigh. This wasn’t supposed to happen. What are you to do now?
3rd Person Point of View = He/She
Limited: 3rd person limited, is perhaps my favorite POV to write from, and probably the most popular written in books, besides 1st person pov. With 3rd limited you get the best of both worlds. You are able to see your character from a distance and get into their thoughts. A popular series in third limited is Harry Potter. We see how he handles his struggles and get a special glimpse into his mind from time to time too on how he feels, his internal reactions, to the situations that he is going though.
The disadvantage to using Limited POV is that you’re limited to this character’s thoughts and feelings, much like 1st person POV. However, I would argue that it’s easier to switch POV’s if you’re writing in third person. It’s an easier transition for the reader and less confusing.
Example: She looked down with a sigh. She knew this wasn’t supposed to happen. What was she supposed to do now?
Objective: Objective pov is strictly He/She did such and such. You don’t get any of the character’s feelings or how they perceive things. This could be good for keeping things vague and mysterious for the readers. The disadvantage here is the lack of characterization. While it’s not unheard of in books, it is generally kept for short stories or poems.
Omniscient: Omniscient pov is just that, omniscient. This pov gets into everyone’s head. The readers know everything about everyone and their feelings and thoughts. There are no secrets here. It’s great because of this reason, but it’s also a disadvantage if you don’t want the reader to know everything. Some things are best kept a secret until the right moment.
While this is a fun POV to write in, it is extremely difficult to master and do well. It takes great experience to pull of this pov, and because of that I would recommend experimenting with this pov only in short stories. Sometimes in novels there is an omniscient narrator, like in The Lord of the Rings, that knows all and lets the readers in.
It’s important to know where you want your story to go before you pick your POV that way you can pick which is best for you (<=see, here I’m using 2nd pov). Certain situations call for certain POV’s and it’s up to you as the writer to decided which POV is best—how do you want your character to portrayed? How do you want them to perceive things? These are good to know before you start writing. Of course there are times when you first start your story and you’re unsure. The important thing is to just get started. You can always change the POV later if you must. That happens more often than you think!
Read Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for a better understanding on Point of View.